National Committee Co-Chair Michael Jacobs first joined the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awardsselection committee in 2015, when he was asked to fill the seat belonging to Danny Grossman, who had just become the CEO of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund. “I always do what Danny asks me to do,” Michael quips.
By then, Michael already knew the Awards’ Co-Chair, Adele Corvin, and had worked with Philanthropic Consultant Phyllis Cook. He was happy to support a unique opportunity for young people such as the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards. “The whole idea of recognizing teenagers who are making an outsized contribution to the world at their age struck me as brilliant,” Michael says. “The Dillers have been so generous in establishing these opportunities. I felt that if I could help in some small way, that would be a worthy cause.”
Michael Jacobs is a partner at the firm Morrison Foerster in San Francisco. He has won the California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year (CLAY) award three times. He also has twice been named “Litigator of the Week” by The American Lawyer, most recently for his victory in a billion dollar smartphone trial in the Northern District of California.
When Michael speaks to other adults about the Diller Teen awardees, he often finds himself telling them that these teens challenge us to ask ourselves what we are doing. Michael takes that challenge seriously. His pro bono work currently includes representing plaintiffs in the case Ella T v. State of California. A press release issued by Morrison Foerster on December 4th calls Ella T. v. State of California “a landmark education case brought under the California Constitution that seeks to vindicate the right of all students to access literacy, no matter their zip code.” The case has been filed “on behalf of California students who have been deprived of access to literacy and received schooling that is unequal to the schooling provided to other students in the State of California.”
Michael’s advice to young changemakers is to think local. “Even the projects that have gone national started out small,” he says. Teens can enlist those in their immediate surroundings to help them pursue something about which they’re passionate, like 2015 awardee Andrew Plotch, whom Michael remembers well. Andrew is the founder of Fight Apathy, which uses a simple method to prompt meaningful dialogue between students: on a designated school day, students are given fill-in-the-blank stickers that read, “I believe in…” which they not only fill out but also wear for the rest of the day. At Andrew’s very first event, more than 700 teens joined the conversation. Since then, over 150,000 students have participated in 23 states, Guam, American Samoa, Ecuador, and China.
To Michael, it’s rewarding to see what amazing things Jewish teens are doing today. They demonstrate “truly extraordinary levels of energy and success and leadership,” he says. “The challenging part is choosing among them!”